One of the many ironies of the Trump campaign is the way that it has seriously underlined so many of the journalistic conventions that made it possible.
The laugh barrier is the strong taboo that most in the mainstream media have against reacting naturally to absurd statements. Conservatives in particular have become quite adept at using this to defuse potentially embarrassing issues. For example, the assertion that George W. Bush's war record compares favorably to that of John Kerry was laughable, but the people making this argument were reasonably confident that few if any of the interviewers would actually laugh. The objective of this tactic is generally not to convince but rather to shove the topic of into an opinions–differ limbo and move on to more favorable territory.
The laugh barrier is deeply entrenched in our journalistic culture and can withstand remarkable amounts of force, but it does have its limits.
From TPM's Allegra Kirkland:
CNN analyst Bakari Sellers launched into a summary of Trump’s past treatment of black Americans, citing the housing discrimination lawsuits his family was forced to settle for refusing to rent to black tenants and the full-page New York Times Trump took out calling for the wrongfully incarcerated Central Park Five to be executed.
“Donald Trump had nothing do with that!” [Gina] Loudon said.
“Wait, wait wait,” host Don Lemon cut in. “You said Donald Trump had nothing do for taking out ads on the Central Park Five?”
“Donald Trump himself,” she answered. “It was not Donald Trump himself.”
Lemon later showed Loudon a photograph of the ad, which bore Trump’s signature.
Things really dissolved when Sellers asked Loudon to name senior black staffers advising Trump’s campaign.
“You named Katrina Pierson. I bet you can’t name two,” he challenged.
“I could go on all day,” Loudon replied. “Omorosa. I mean I could go on all day. I’m not going to play into your little tester—”
Lemon and the rest of the four-person panel burst into laughter, and apparently some CNN staffers did as well.
“Stop. Stop it y’all. People in the studio are even laughing,” Lemon said.
The Trump campaign has effectively opened a hole in the laugh barrier. The question now is whether or not that gap will still be there the next time we have an election.